Well, not a little teaser. More like the entire 4,000+ word first chapter. But considering the size of the book (120,000 words), it's relatively little. Next week, I'll post chapter 2.
Sergei Andronikov hadn’t been in the guy’s lap thirty seconds, and there was already a hand on his ass.
Sergei Andronikov hadn’t been in the guy’s lap thirty seconds, and there was already a hand on his ass.
Carefully schooling his expression—keeping the irritation well beneath the surface—Sergei batted the asshole’s hand away. This was Sergei’s fourth or fifth client of the night, and he was one of those middle-aged financial types. The kind who’d been behind a desk in a bank long enough to think he was God. Sergei hated those fucks.
But he was getting paid, so he writhed and undulated on the banker’s lap, sharing it with a sizeable paunch. And after a few beats, the hand was back, this time coming up off the armrest to caress Sergei’s hip. Before it could inch toward his ass—these fuckers were so goddamned predictable—Sergei again pushed it away, adding a playful, “No touching. That’s the rule.”
The banker grinned, revealing teeth that were flawless aside from the misfortune of being in this man’s head. “I’m paying you good money.” He placed a defiant hand firmly on Sergei’s leather-clad hip. “I’d say the rules are negotiable.”
“Actually.” Sergei dropped the playfulness as he grabbed the man’s wrist and shoved his hand away. “They’re not.”
Do it again, and you’ll be swallowing those pretty teeth.
The guy snatched Sergei’s arm, gripping it painfully. “Customer’s always right. Now you’ll—”
In a heartbeat, Sergei had him shoved back against the chair, fingers around the asshole’s throat. Blood pounded beneath the skin, one squeeze away from being cut off, and Sergei dug his knee against the man’s crotch.
“What the fuck?” the guy ground out.
“The rules are not negotiable, and this dance is over.” Sergei dug his thumb just hard enough against the banker’s jugular to make him nervous. “Now get the fuck out of here before I turn all three of the ex-Special Forces bouncers loose on your ass.” He leaned in closer. “You know what kind of ex-Special Forces guy becomes a bouncer in a gay strip club in a shitty little town like this?”
Eyes widening even more, the asshole shook his head. “N-no…”
“The kind who are too fucked up in the head to do anything else.” Sergei pushed himself up, using the stupid sap’s throat and balls for leverage and nearly tipping the chair back in the process. “Get the fuck out of here.”
The banker wisely got the fuck out of there. Probably the smartest thing he’d done all night. He’d have moved even faster if he’d known just whose ass he’d been trying to grope.
But he was gone, and Sergei still had a few hours left on his shift, so after he’d straightened his hair and clothes, he stepped out of the booth.
Roy, the burly black bouncer hovering near the entrance to the private dance booths, grinned at him. “That guy left in a hurry. You feed him that ex-Special Forces line?”
“Maybe.” Sergei batted his eyes. “You have to admit, it gets the point across.”
Roy laughed. “Well, I think you scared him good.”
“That’s the idea.” Sergei headed back out to the lounge, ignoring the creepy tingling where the asshole’s hands had landed. He was used to a lot of things in this job, but the groping still made his skin crawl. Oh well. Occupational hazard.
As he stepped up to the bar for some water, Jesse, one of the other strippers, came running up to him.
“Hey, Sergei.” Jesse grabbed his arm, eyes huge and face white. “We gotta call the cops.”
He gestured shakily at the back door. “I was outside having a smoke, and some guys pulled up. Started fucking up some dude they pulled outta the trunk.”
Oh, shit. Not here. Not this close to where I work.
“No cops.” Sergei squeezed his shoulder and started toward the back. “I’ll chase ’em off.”
“What?” Hot on his heels, Jesse said, “Dude, they’re big guys! They’re—”
“I’ve got this. Relax.”
Jesse exhaled sharply and muttered, “Your funeral.”
“I mean it.” Sergei spun around and stabbed a finger at him. “No cops.”
“Okay, okay!” Jesse showed his palms. “No cops.”
Sergei quickly went into the back, opened his locker, and pulled up the false bottom. Beneath it was a .22 pistol and an extra magazine. With those in hand, he replaced the false bottom and headed out to the back alley where the goons were apparently conducting business.
This was just not his night, was it? He’d already had to deal with the son of a bitch who couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Now there were Italians in the back alley, one of them getting his ass handed to him, and Sergei wasn’t having it. Nobody brought Mafia business this close to his club. Not unless they were there to discreetly contract him for their dirty work, and only a handful of people knew who he was or where to find him. Otherwise, the Italians were taking their lives in their own hands if they brought their kind—and potentially the cops—this close to his club.
Especially now. It had only been three days since Lorenzo Barcia’s body washed up by the docks, and up until tonight, everybody in Cape Swan had been laying low, keeping their heads down while the cops hunted for anyone who might be connected. Shit like that happened here all the time—violence was unavoidable with three Cosa Nostra families vying for dominance—but when a murder was clearly set up to send a message, it got attention. After all, though the saltwater had fucked the asshole up good, it was a safe bet he hadn’t died of natural causes. Not with his balls torn off and shoved into his fat mouth.
In the days since he’d been found, the town had been as quiet as the July heat had been oppressive. Tensions were running hot, someone was going to get blamed for that murder, and nobody wanted to be anywhere around when any bullets started flying.
Least of all the man who’d stuffed Barcia’s balls in the guy’s own screaming mouth before shoving him off the pier for the crabs to snack on.
But Sergei wasn’t in charge of what went on in this twisted little world, and now, before the shit had even begun to die down, some fucknuts were beating up some wise guy in the wrong alley. Of all the times and places, they’d decided to rough up the asshole here, on the outer edges of Cape Swan, just a few blocks down from the Pacific waterfront, behind the wrong fucking strip club.
Sergei shut the back door and barricaded it with the folding chair that his coworkers sat in whenever they smoked. This was the windowless club’s only rear exit, and he didn’t want anyone following him outside. At least the other businesses along the alley were closed this time of night. As long as a roving police officer didn’t happen by, he was in the clear to shut this bullshit down.
As soon as he’d stepped outside, Sergei knew exactly where the assholes were, as if there’d been any doubt. Their Italian-accented shit-talking made his teeth grind—way to be subtle, guys. Two men had a third backed up and bloody against the bumper of a late model Cadillac, and they weren’t done with him. A punch doubled the poor fucker over, and he grunted and wheezed as they hauled him upright again.
Gun in hand, Sergei strode across the gravel. He knew he hardly cut an imposing figure—he was half their size, for one thing, and his skintight red leather shorts and crop top weren’t exactly the stuff of nightmares. Fine. They didn’t need to be intimidated.
One turned and did a double take. He snapped his fingers and pointed toward the club, as if Sergei were a stray dog who’d come to investigate the noise. “You! Get the fuck outta here, fag.”
Sergei continued his approach. “How about you idiots get the fuck out of here.”
The second man muttered something as he lowered his fist, which he’d probably been about to shove into the third guy’s gut. “You got a problem, fag?”
“Yeah, I do.” Sergei stopped, keeping the gun at his side. “How about you assholes take this somewhere else?”
The first rolled his eyes. “Or what?”
Sergei nodded toward the unfortunate asshole pinned to the bumper. “Or you both get to bleed more than him.”
Both men glanced at the pistol, but laughed.
“Get out of here, fag.” The second turned and balled his fist, drawing back to punch the goon again.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Sergei raised the .22 and put a bullet through the Italian’s knee.
The first guy jumped back. “Holy shit!”
The second howled in agony and dropped to the ground.
The third, with no one to hold him up, crumpled to his knees. His head lolled a bit, and he blinked a few times, probably trying to stay conscious. He’d taken a hell of a beating. Sergei couldn’t tell how much of the blood on his knuckles was his, but it looked like he’d given as good as he’d gotten. And he was alive. That said a lot.
The one with the bullet in his knee whined and writhed on the ground beside his own victim, blood seeping through his fingers. “Pezzo di merda! Figlio di—fuck!”
Sergei faced the man still standing. “Weapons?”
“Don’t fuck with me. Weapons on the ground, or bullet through the dick.”
The uninjured Italian’s eyes widened. Hands shaking, he withdrew a pistol from inside his jacket, and a set of brass knuckles.
The man he’d been beating saw the brass knuckles and gulped.
“Put them on the ground.” Sergei gestured at the man he’d shot. “Out of his reach.”
The Italian glanced at his wounded partner, then crouched and laid his weapons where the other guy couldn’t reach them. Hands up, he stood again.
Sergei nodded sharply toward the car. “Open the trunk and get in.”
“What?” The guy laughed, a borderline hysterical sound. “You crazy? I’m not—”
Sergei leveled the gun at the goon’s face. “Get in the fucking trunk.”
His eyes widened, and his tanned Italian complexion paled. Then he shoved his would-be victim aside, sending the man crumpling the rest of the way to the ground, groaning and clutching his chest. The goon eyed Sergei and the open trunk, and then he climbed inside.
With his foot, Sergei nudged the one he’d shot. “You too. Get in.”
“What?” The Italian blinked up at him. He clutched his knee, blood soaking his pant leg and streaming from between his fingers. “I can’t walk, you fuck!”
“Stop being a pussy.” Sergei aimed the weapon at his other knee. “Or I’ll make sure you can’t crawl, either.”
The man struggled to his feet, using the car bumper for support and whimpering whenever he moved his wounded leg. He started to climb into the trunk but couldn’t bend his knee.
“Fuck. I can’t…”
Sergei shoved him unceremoniously into the trunk, and despite their significant size difference, he knocked the sobbing Italian on top of his partner. Sergei didn’t even flinch when the guy’s head smacked against the trunk lid. By the time both men were completely inside the trunk, the wounded one was howling in pain, and from the smell, Sergei was pretty sure one or the other had pissed himself.
Whatever. Wasn’t Sergei’s fault they’d chosen this alley out of all the other options in this town. He grabbed a roll of duct tape from the trunk and put a piece over the screaming man’s mouth, but it didn’t muffle him all that much.
“Shut the fuck up,” Sergei snarled. “Or your other kneecap is gone.”
The man shut up. Tears were streaming down his face, and he was hyperventilating now, but he was more or less quiet.
Sergei bound the first guy’s hands, and then put duct tape over his mouth too. Thank fucking God—another minute of his bullshit, and Sergei would’ve shot them both then and there. Even now he was tempted just to rid the world of two more Mafia scumbags like the ones who’d murdered his family.
But not here. Not this close to the club.
He slammed the trunk and turned to the other thorn in his side—the guy they’d been roughing up. Leaving him here wasn’t an option. The cops were too jumpy to ignore a battered Italian, and they’d start prowling around in this part of town. A little too close to home for Sergei’s taste.
He didn’t care if the man lived or died as long as he didn’t do it here, so Sergei crouched beside the wounded man and quietly asked, “Can you walk?”
“Let’s see if we can get you into the car.” Sergei offered him an arm, keeping his pistol firmly in his other hand in case the wise guy decided to try something funny, and helped him to his feet.
He didn’t try anything. The poor bastard probably had some busted ribs, maybe even some bleeding on the inside, judging by the way he doubled over and kept an arm around his middle. With Sergei’s help and a pained sound, he lay back across the backseat.
Sergei shut the car door and scanned the dark alley. As far as he could tell, no one was around. No one had seen a thing. He fully intended to keep it that way.
None of the men in the car were going anywhere without his help, so after he’d collected the weapons and kicked some gravel over the blood, obscuring it enough that it wouldn’t draw attention, he headed back inside. He took the chair away from the door and strolled into the club.
He found his boss by the bar, and flagged him down. “Hey, Paco. I need to step out for a bit. Take care of something.”
Paco raised his eyebrows. No doubt Jesse had told him about the shit going on in the alley. “You need a hand?”
“No, I’ve got this. Just need some time.”
Paco didn’t ask questions. People in Mafia-run towns usually didn’t—the less they knew about shady shit, the better.
With his boss’s blessing, Sergei left the club. In the car, he found a pair of leather gloves in the glove compartment and put them on so he didn’t leave any more fingerprints in or on the vehicle. Then he drove the goons’ car out of the alley and safely away from the row of clubs. He continued along the waterfront, past a deserted park and down to the marina, where he stopped.
As the engine idled, Sergei drummed the wheel and gazed in the rearview, debating how to handle the wise guy in the backseat and the two idiots in the trunk. If they hadn’t killed the guy, they were either inept, or they’d only intended to send a message. Pity for them they’d chosen the wrong post office for that message.
And one way or another, they were inept. They were also competition. More importantly, their ineptness could get them caught, and once the cops got their hands on anybody in this fucked up underworld—especially with bodies washing up on the beach—everyone remotely attached to La Cosa Nostra were in danger, and that included independent contractors like Sergei. If these morons were stupid enough to rough someone up this brazenly with a police station six blocks away, then they were a liability to everyone.
They had to go.
Sergei got out of the car. He opened the trunk, and without any fanfare or hesitation, unloaded two bullets apiece into their foreheads. Then he slammed the lid again.
As he’d done in the alley, he smeared his footprints in the gravel. With a towel he’d found beside the two dead men, he wiped every surface to make sure he didn’t leave any fingerprints on the inside or outside of the car. There could be no trace of him here; though the rounds were nearly impossible to trace and even the .22 would be in the ocean before sunrise, he took no chances.
And now he was left with the beaten up guy in the backseat. In theory, he could’ve offed him and walked away. One less Mafioso to pollute this town.
But Sergei didn’t kill indiscriminately. Even when he was absolutely certain a man was Mafia—and thus fair game for a bullet—the fact remained that offing the wrong guy could mark him for death if anyone ever connected him. He was good at covering his tracks, but he refused to take unnecessary risks.
And besides, he only committed murder under three circumstances. One, when it was a paid hit, because even for an independent contractor, saying no to the Mafia was a death sentence. Two, when he was in actual immediate danger. Three, when the mark needed to be removed from the Mafia chessboard so Sergei could push them all one body closer to extinction.
The goons technically hadn’t put him in immediate danger, but they posed a threat to Sergei and the handful of other hired guns in this town. They’d also seen his face. They’d brought Mafia business too close to where he conducted his business. They’d had to go.
That wasn’t to say his life as a stripper and his life as a contract killer never crossed. Quite the contrary—he had a very select group of contacts who met him at the club, and through a series of coded comments, gave him work that paid a hell of a lot more than making horny bankers pant. He deliberately handled his transactions there, hiding in plain sight. No one but his contacts ever saw his face, and none of the macho Mafia assholes would ever suspect a sometimes flamboyant gay stripper of being the hitman equivalent of the boogey man. The assassin they told their children about when they wouldn’t behave.
What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
And he wanted to get back to the club tonight, but he still had one more mess to clean up.
Sergei tilted the rearview down and studied the Italian’s still form. What little he could make out in the darkness, anyway. There was no telling exactly who the semiconscious Italian was. Well-dressed—that was not an off-the-rack suit—so he probably wasn’t just some random wise guy. Involved enough with La Cosa Nostra to take a ride in the trunk of a Cadillac and have his ass kicked in a back alley. But his name? His role? What he’d done to earn a beating like that? Anyone’s guess.
Sergei’s best bet was to let him go. Besides, the guy could be someone he actually wanted alive. Not that he wanted any Mafiosi alive, but some needed to keep breathing while Sergei continued pulling strings to move people into position within the families’ hierarchies. Once the dominoes were in a row, they’d all fall in good time, but for now, some of them needed to stay alive until the pieces were in place.
He opened the car door. “Time to go.”
The Italian groaned softly and struggled to sit up. Sergei helped him, and with some cursing and grunting, the wounded man made it out of the car.
Once he was on his feet, he leaned against the car, clutching his side. “Fuck…”
Sergei gave the man a quick down-up. This was the first chance he’d had to actually look at the guy, and surprisingly the Italian wasn’t one of the greasy, weathered assholes he was used to seeing. Even with the blood and the bruises, he had a much prettier face than most of his kind. The streetlights picked out a few strands of silver in his otherwise jet black hair, but he couldn’t have been older than forty. Mid-thirties, maybe.
And he probably had that lightly tanned olive skin like the other Mafia scumbags, but between his sickly pallor and the blood and sweat glinting beneath the milky light, it was impossible to tell.
Sergei shook himself. “You need a hospital.”
The man spat blood on the pavement. “No fucking hospitals.”
Stubborn idiot. Hospitals routinely called the cops when people came in with signs of assault and battery. When well-dressed Italians came in with signs of assault and battery? Nobody called nobody.
“You could be bleeding internally.”
“I’ll take my chances.” He shifted, wincing. “But I’d rather not stay out here.”
Sergei bit back some profanity in his native tongue. The less this guy knew about him, the better.
“Listen.” The Italian groaned, holding his side protectively. “If you’re gonna shoot me, just fucking get it over with.”
“If I was going to shoot you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. What’s your name?”
The Italian lifted his head enough to meet Sergei’s gaze. “Who wants to know?”
Sergei rolled his eyes. “The guy who’s going to decide whether you wake up tomorrow in a hospital, a jail cell, or a morgue.”
He blinked. “Domenico Maisano.”
Sergei’s blood turned cold and he muttered, “You’re shitting me.”
Maisano laughed, but then grimaced, and managed to croak, “You’ve heard of me.”
“Yeah. I have.” Sergei knew that name well. This guy was the nephew—more like adopted son—of Corrado Maisano himself, the boss of the powerful Maisano clan. A contractor like Sergei, who worked with all three of the big families, had to tread carefully. He had no way of knowing if he’d just interrupted a sanctioned hit, albeit a sloppily executed one. If it wasn’t sanctioned, and by some chance, someone figured out he’d been the one to finish the job, he’d bring the wrath of all three families down on his own head.
Son of a bitch. All he’d wanted to do was get all this crap away from the club so the cops wouldn’t come knocking on doors. Now he had Domenico fucking Maisano on his hands.
“Can you walk or not?” he asked sharply.
The Italian groaned again. “I don’t… I don’t know.” He tried to take a step, but stumbled, and when Sergei caught him, the man gasped. “Fuck. That hurts.”
“You got a phone?”
Maisano gingerly patted his pockets, and then shook his head. “Not… not anymore.”
“Of course you don’t.” Sergei looked around. They were pretty far from town, and no one would be wandering around here this late at night. “Don’t move.”
Maisano mumbled something about that not being a problem.
Still wearing the stolen gloves, Sergei made sure Maisano hadn’t bled on the backseat—he didn’t care if Maisano was connected to the assholes in the trunk, but on the off chance someone happened by before he’d relieved himself of the limping Italian, Sergei didn’t want anyone connecting him to them.
Then he went to the trunk, opened it, relieved one of the dead guys of his phone, and slammed the lid. “Come on. We’re going for a walk.”
“Maybe you are,” Maisano said through his teeth. “Look at me.”
“Well, it’s up to you. The paramedics can find you over there”—Sergei gestured with the phone toward a park a few blocks away—“or they can find you here.” He tapped the trunk with his gloved knuckle.
Maisano’s eyes widened.
“So.” Sergei nodded toward the park. “Let’s go.”
Maisano cursed again. Then he carefully pushed himself off the car and took a few slow, painful steps. “Don’t expect me to walk fast.”
Sergei bit back his impatience. “Need a hand?”
Maisano eyed him suspiciously, but then nodded. “I could use one, yeah.”
Sergei took his elbow, and together, they shuffled toward the park.
On the way, Sergei expected questions. Who the hell was he? What the fuck was he doing interfering with Mob business?
But Maisano didn’t ask. Maybe he was in too much pain to give a damn. Or he could’ve been silently thanking one of his Catholic saints for the leather clad angel who’d swooped in and saved his ass.
Good thing he kept his mouth shut. Sergei hated questions. And Maisano could thank all the saints he wanted—he didn’t need to know he was walking with an angel of death.
If The Seas Catch Fire will be available January 3, and is currently available for pre-order.
Sergei Andronikov was a child when the Mafia wiped out his family, leaving him with nothing but a hunger for revenge. Years later, through ruthless strategy and tireless patience, he’s a contract killer working for the three families ruling Cape Swan… and he’s nearly in position to bring them all down from the inside.
Domenico “Dom” Maisano is Mafia royalty, a made man… and a hitman. He’s caught up in a violent life he can’t escape, struggling to maintain an image he doesn’t want, and suppressing desires he can’t have.
A chance encounter throws the killers into each other’s paths. Though Dom knows he’s playing a dangerous game, he’s intrigued and keeps coming back. Sergei can’t resist him either—Dom is everything he set out to destroy, but he’s also everything he’s ever ached for in a man.
Then Sergei gets the contract he’s been waiting for—the hit that promises to bring the town’s Mafia to its knees.
But when a boss makes an unexpected move, Sergei must choose between dropping the hammer on the families he vowed to annihilate, and protecting the man he swore he wouldn’t love.
And the wrong choice—or even the right one—will destroy them both.